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With Irving in place, Cavs clearly on upswing

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (1) passes ball center Joakim Noah (13) past ClevelCavaliers center Andrew Bynum during first

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (1) passes the ball to center Joakim Noah (13) past Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: December 13, 2013 6:27AM



The Indiana Pacers are the flavor of the moment in the NBA.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, are on the fast track to being the team of tomorrow.

At least that was the feeling from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau on Monday, when discussing the Central Division, and specifically, possible rivals moving in coming years.

“When you get a piece like [Cavaliers guard Kyrie] Irving you can build, and they’ve done that,’’ Thibodeau said. “They have some very good young players, they have a style of play, they’re going in the right direction. They’re a very dangerous team.’’

It’s a description of the Cavs that seemed highly unlikely four years ago, when LeBron James brought the franchise — and city — to its knees in his decision to sign with the Miami Heat.

“They have a nice foundation in place,’’ Thibodeau said of how quickly they have rebuilt. “And that’s the nature of the NBA — it’s how quickly you can adapt to change. So the things they’ve been able to control, they’ve done a great job with.’’

Irving is the key, and is under control by the team until after the 2015-16 season. The signing of free agents Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack were offseason splashes made by the Cavs, as was bringing back coach Mike Brown.

While the jury is still out on what kind of players youngsters Anthony Bennett and Dion Waiters can develop into, one thing the team has going for it is salary flexibility. Anderson Varejao and Alonzo Gee each have team options, and their departures could leave the payroll at under $49 million next season.

That’s why the James-to-Cleveland rumors have been mentioned, and as far-fetched as the move seems, it would obviously be landscape-altering.

Going on the defensive

The defensive effort the Bulls were searching for after their sluggish start has appeared the last two games.

According to Carlos Boozer, it actually happened against the Pacers last week, but the Bulls couldn’t sustain it in the fourth quarter. But the Jazz and the Cavs were given full doses of it.

“Obviously we can improve at it, but our defense is ahead of our offense,’’ Boozer said. “If we would have started the season playing defense like we have the last couple games our record would indicate that.’’

Coach K in the house

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski attended the game on Monday and had a lot of former players to keep an eye on.

He coached Mike Dunleavy, Boozer, Luol Deng and Irving, and added Thibodeau to the coaching staff for Team USA Basketball.

“It was a great experience,’’ Thibodeau said of working with Krzyzewski. “His record speaks for itself. He’s a fantastic leader, just terrific.’’

Duke plays Kansas at the United Center on Tuesday.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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